Access and Coalition Urge U.S. Federal Agencies to Protect Human Rights

Certain rights transcend governments, but we still rely on government authorities to protect them. Executive Order 13107, for example, was signed in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. It requires executive agencies to comply with the legal obligations imposed by various international treaties. This includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”). This legally-binding order requires every federal agency to establish a single point of contact to coordinate “complaints about violations of human rights obligations that fall within its area of responsibility.” In plain English, that means that government agencies are legally compelled to set up a mechanism enabling people — regardless of nationality — to file complaints about abuses of human rights. The order also mandates that these complaints must receive a response, and that all non-trivial complaints must be reviewed annually.

Unfortunately, most agencies have failed to fulfill this legal obligation. Today, Access and a coalition of civil society groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Library Association sent a letter to the National Security Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, requesting they fulfill their legal duties according to EO 13107.. The letter is an important step toward ensuring that individuals are able to officially highlight when the federal government offends human rights.

While the order was signed more than 16 years ago, only the Department of Homeland Security has fulfilled its obligation. The U.S. maintains that the ICCPR is not a self-executing treaty, and believes that without legislation implementing itsprovisions of the treaty, individuals have no way to formally challenge the government’s failure to respect its protections. This means that the process established by the Order is an essential tool for individuals to assert their rights.

While establishing this point of contact will not in of itself prevent government abuses, it will allow those who are affected to have their voices heard. We believe that forcing the agencies to confront the impact of their actions will help to lay the groundwork for future reform.

Access will keep you updated as this progresses.